Eldest Son of the Center’s Namesake Returns Home to Guide the Creative Vision of the Center’s Music Programs for Underserved Communities
NEW ORLEANS (January 30, 2024) – The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music (EMCM) in the upper Ninth Ward is proud to announce the homecoming of the renowned saxophonist and composer Branford Marsalis. In addition to a distinguished career that continues to span performances worldwide with both his quartet and as a featured classical soloist, and his work as a composer for films, television and Broadway, Branford will now assume the prestigious role of Artistic Director at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. Established in 2012, the Center uses music as the focal point of a holistic strategy to build a healthy community and deliver a broad range of services to underserved children, youth, and musicians from neighborhoods battling poverty and social injustice.
Located in the Musicians’ Village, the Center is the living memorial to the late jazz pianist, educator, and Marsalis family patriarch, Ellis Marsalis, Jr. Ellis spent the final ten years of his life outlining his vision for the Center and laying the foundation for its future. Branford, his eldest son, steps into this role beginning in 2024 and will shape the Center’s artistic trajectory, offer invaluable strategic insights, and steer the organization’s creative vision. Branford will collaborate closely with the executive leadership at the Center to continue developing artistic and educational programming and initiatives to create social change through the arts.
“My dad was a teacher, in music and in life,” Branford Marsalis said. “After Hurricane Katrina, he envisioned a haven for the underserved musicians and children in his hometown of New Orleans. He spent the last decade of his life committed to turning that dream into a reality at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. It is my honor to step into the role of Artistic Director at the Center and to continue to drive its mission. I hope to make my dad proud.”
The post-Hurricane Katrina brainchild of Branford and his childhood friend Harry Connick, Jr., in collaboration with Jim Pate and the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, the Center is the centerpiece of a unique neighborhood development built specifically for New Orleans musicians and underserved youth after the mega storm devastated the region in August 2005. The facility features a
large performance space with state-of-the-art lighting and sound, recording facilities, a computer center and listening library, a dance studio, classrooms, and teaching facilities for individual and group instruction. In addition to a robust music education program for children and adults, the Center offers opportunities ranging from on-stage performance to behind-the-camera roles, sound engineering to computer coding, and studio recording.
“Filling Ellis Marsalis’s shoes as Artistic Director of The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music is a bridge no one wanted to cross,” Connick, Jr. said. “Having Branford step in is a dream come true. I can think of no one more suited, talented, or qualified to take our vision forward and to carry on the standard of excellence associated with the Marsalis name.”
Connick’s sentiments were echoed by Branford’s fellow collaborator and friend George C. Wolfe, director of several films—including most recently Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Rustin—for which Marsalis composed the scores. “Branford Marsalis is a genre defying artist, a brilliant musicologist, an impassioned teacher, and a deeply caring human being. Greatness requires greatness, and so I can’t think of anyone better equipped to become the new Artistic Director of the Ellis Marsalis Center than Branford.”
Renowned as a musician, composer, and educator, Ellis Marsalis epitomized a commitment to excellence in his craft and teachings, leaving an indelible mark on the community. He dedicated his life to nurturing and training the youth of New Orleans, including Branford and Harry. Now, almost two decades since the inception of the organization and the passing of Mr. Marsalis in 2020, his son, Branford, is poised to carry forward this legacy. Branford will continue the tradition with unwavering dedication, imparting invaluable knowledge to shape the future generations of New Orleanian musicians and culture bearers.
“Our father was dedicated to creating a more conscious world through jazz,” said Wynton Marsalis, renowned jazz trumpeter and managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. “Branford knows this better than anyone. He is a fantastic teacher, dynamic musician, and engaged thinker. With his soulfulness, insight, and deep commitment to the community, Branford will grow the presence and infrastructure of The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music. We all sleep better knowing that Branford will continue in the high-minded spirit we were taught in the Crescent City. He will do as he has done and inspire the coming generations with his energy, creativity, and belief. Our father is so proud and happy about this.”
In a heartfelt congratulatory message to Branford, his friend and longtime colleague Sting noted that Branford has truly come into his rightful place at the Center, following in his father’s footsteps and carrying forward the profound musical legacy of his lineage.
New Orleans gave the world jazz, but its rich cultural heritage stands at a critical crossroads as the current generation ages. The accessibility to education and technical training in the music and entertainment industry is increasingly challenging for residents in underserved communities within the city. The need for bridging this gap becomes ever more pressing to ensure that the vibrant legacy of New Orleans’s cultural contributions endures and thrives into the future.
“At the heart of the Center’s mission is the fundamental belief that music has the power to transform lives,” says Ellis Marsalis Center for Music Executive Director Lisa Dabney. “We consider it an honor to provide our students and local musicians with a wonderful space and the tools to nurture their talents
and creativity. Nothing gives our team greater joy than knowing that we are enriching lives with music—each and every day—and now with Branford’s arrival, the sky’s the limit.”
As part of the announcement event at the Center on January 30, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker visited the Center to learn more about its mission and led a conversation with Branford about the intersections of art and social justice and his vision for the Center.
Beyond its significance as a cultural hub, the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music is emblematic of the resilience and spirit of New Orleans. The Center’s mission to use the arts to create social change provides opportunities to transform its community. As Artistic Director, Branford Marsalis will lead the Center’s efforts to preserve the unique New Orleans musical culture of the past and prepare upcoming generations of artists to change the future.
About Ellis Marsalis Center for Music:
The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music uses music as the focal point of a holistic strategy to build a healthy community and deliver a broad range of services to underserved children, youth, and musicians from neighborhoods battling poverty and social injustice. The Center is a safe and supportive environment where children and youth develop musically, academically, and socially; where local musicians perform, record, and develop professionally; and where the community gathers. The Center also serves as a community resource and a catalyst for cultural preservation. For more information about the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music and its programs, please visit www.ellismarsaliscenter.org